U.S. Has 55 Daily Encounters With ‘Suspected Terrorists’
Law enforcement and homeland security personnel face an average of 55 daily encounters with “known or suspected terrorists” named on government watchlists, officials told Reuters.
The figure - which equals more than 20,000 contacts per year - underscores the growing sweep of the watchlists, which have expanded significantly since a failed Christmas Day 2009 bombing attempt of a U.S. airliner. But officials note that very few of those daily contacts lead to arrests.
Civil liberties groups question the use of watchlists, and they have been ridiculed for ensnaring innocent citizens.
U.S. officials said the encounters, which involve airport and border security personnel as well as federal and local law enforcement officers, are reported to the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), an interagency unit led by an FBI official based in a tightly guarded building in northern Virginia.
At its headquarters, the TSC operates a 24-hour command center, resembling something from a Hollywood thriller, complete with giant wall-screen projections and signs flashing “SECRET.”
Officials said that when a law enforcement or homeland security officer in the field stops a person whose name matches a name in the TSC’s databases, the officer is supposed to phone the TSC command center for instructions. Based on information in the databases, the TSC then will advise the officer in the field how to proceed, which could range from releasing the suspect to calling in federal officers as backup.
The command center gets between 100 and 150 inquiries a day, of which an average of 55 involve individuals who turn out to be listed on one of the federal watch lists, officials said. Of those calls, about 60 percent come from federal officers at border or airport security posts; the rest come from local police.
“There are incidents every single day,” said TSC director Timothy Healy.
The watchlists include the best known “no fly list” as well as a “selectee list” of people who the government thinks should get extra screening or questioning before being allowed to board an airplane.
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